Dog Health and Nutrition For Dummies
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As much as you want your dog to live forever — or even as long as you do — the sad truth is that your canine companion is neither immortal nor able to match the average human being's life span. However, you don't have to wallow in your sadness over the inevitable prospect of saying goodbye to your senior dog sooner rather than later. You can maximize your dog's chances of living a longer, higher-quality life in plenty of ways.

Keep 'em fit

Regular exercise helps the senior canine get fit and stay that way. Physical fitness benefits the older dog in many ways:

  • Helps keep the heart and lungs in good working order.
  • Helps him hold the line against life-sapping obesity.
  • Enables him to forestall some of the creakiness that old age inevitably bestows upon bones, muscles, and ligaments.
  • Helps prevent the boredom that spurs all too many canines to become Destructo Dogs.
  • Gives the aging canine a sense of purpose.

Physical fitness for the aging pooch doesn't mean that your graying Fido must tear up an agility course or that your mature Fifi has to fetch a gazillion tennis balls in one exercise session. A couple of moderately paced walks of 20 minutes or so every day can do a lot to keep your older dog's body in good condition. Such walks can help his mind, too. The stimulus of being in an ever-changing outdoor environment can be a source of real pleasure to him. And, perhaps most importantly, daily constitutionals can soothe your senior dog's spirit because those walks give him a chance to be with the individual who matters more to him than anyone else — you.

Of course, walks aren't the only exercise available to the aging canine. You can choose from a variety of pursuits that work out the body (jogging, swimming, yoga, and canine sports) and the mind (fetching and hide-and-seek). Try any or all of these activities with your senior dog after you get a thumbs-up from his vet. You may well find that staying on the move gives your dog a new lease on life.

Keep 'em lean

Canine companions get to exercise only when their owners play games with them, go for walks with them, or take them to the dog park. They also have to eat whatever's put in front of them — and if someone puts too much in front of them, the results can be disastrous.

Your canine eager eater isn't capable of deciding that you've put too much food in her dish and walk away from her dining area, especially if you give her grub that she really likes. She can't determine that only a portion of what you've served her fulfills her caloric requirements and tell you to chuck the excess. She depends on you to figure out how much food she needs to stay trim, and she needs you to serve only that amount.

By keeping your four-legged friend's weight where it should be (your vet can help you determine just what weight level you should aim for), you up her chances of living a life that's free of many conditions that can shorten both the quality and quantity of that life. The treat you refuse to give your senior dog today can mean one more tomorrow that she otherwise wouldn't have had.

Brush those choppers

Wielding a toothbrush on your senior dog's teeth every day does a lot more than help him avoid having doggy breath. A daily brushing with a soft brush and toothpaste designed especially for dogs can help control and even eliminate the plaque and tartar that cause gum disease. This disease, which starts off as simple gingivitis but progresses to periodontitis if you don't intervene, can result in the eventual loss of your dog's teeth — and cause considerable pain in the meantime.

Even worse is the fact that periodontitis causes infections in the gums that the bloodstream may transport to other areas in the dog's body. Those areas include vital organs, such as the heart and lungs. Infections in these organs can be fatal.

Taking five minutes every day to brush your pooch's pearlies is a small investment with a big payoff: fresh breath, healthy teeth and gums, and the elimination of life-threatening infections.

Use your hands

Hands-on care for your senior dog can benefit both her and you. Studies show that petting a pooch lowers a person's blood pressure and slows her breathing rate and heartbeat. High levels of all three of these vital signs can signal stress. Stress has been shown to shorten a person's life — so by petting your dog, you may boost your own longevity.

Petting your pooch can boost her longevity, too. For one thing, a regular petting fest can help you feel for lumps and bumps when they develop early, and you can have your vet check them out right away. Hands-on love fests also can help you uncover flaky skin or rashes that indicate that your dog's not in tip-top shape. A flinch or wincing response to your touch tells you that your four-legged friend feels pain when touched in that spot, which should prompt you and your vet to investigate further. Being petted may help lower a dog's blood pressure and other stress indicators.

Just as important as the physical benefits to you and your senior dog is the fact that regular touch — whether it's just plain petting or a more sophisticated therapy — can build and maintain the bond between the two of you. Taking a few minutes to literally stay in touch helps you both make the most of this time in your canine companion's life and in your time together.

Lay on the love

At this time in your dog's life, there's no such thing as giving her too much love. If you've cared for your senior dog for most her life, now's the time to let her know how much you appreciate the devotion and affection that she's given you all these years. If you've adopted your senior dog fairly recently, you want to let her know that here, in your home, she can feel safe and loved for the rest of her life.

Go on — get down on the floor and coo baby talk into your four-legged friend's ears. Consider easing up on some of your no-getting-up-on-the-bed-and-couch rules. Pet her at every opportunity and treat her to a massage when you have more time. You don't need to confine loving gestures to indoors. Take your dog to her favorite places. Take her traveling with you, if you can. Let her supervise when you're out in your garden, and let her eat on the patio when you and your family do.

Knowing that someone loves you helps anyone live a higher-quality life. You'll never regret making all this extra effort to please your senior dog. Doing all you can to make your dog's golden years the best they can possibly be and going out of your way to show her how much you cherish her are gifts that brighten the remainder of her life and create memories that brighten the rest of yours.

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